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Issues involved in Changing a choir's name



Thanks to the many listers who responded so generously with their thoughts,
experiences, questions, recommendations and empathy on the name change issue.
I also received lots of requests to compile, so here goes, but be
forewarned: this is VERY long. For those who missed it the first time,
here's the original posting, followed by the responses in no particular order
(and sometimes my responses to the responses, which I put in square
brackets), then the names of most of the responders in alphabetical order
(some asked not to be listed by name, which is only fair since my chorus
asked to be anonymous).

I sing in a 100-voice SATB 50-year-old all-volunteer independent chorus,
which has asked to be kept anonymous for this posting. The question of
whether to change the name of the chorus is being considered. The name
contains the word "civic," which some chorus members believe creates an
undeserved image of inferiority or poor quality. Other members believe the
name is not a problem, and feel a strong sense of identity and emotional
attachment to the name. I offered to seek feedback on other groups'
experience of name changes. If your choir has changed its name, or is
considering it, or considered it and decided against it:
Why was a name change brought up? What were the pros and cons considered?
Did you have any concrete evidence that the old name was problematic?
What was the reaction among the singers, audience, contributors, grantors,
etc?
Did you lose or gain any singers, audience, contributors, grantors etc. due
to the name change?
How did you publicize the name change? When did you stop references to the
old name? How did you deal with recordings and other items still in use
containing the old name?
What lessons did you learn that you wish you had known before you started?
--------------
We, too, felt our name, "Bay Area Lutheran Chorale" was stodgy (due
to the word "Chorale") and perceived to be exclusive (due to
"Lutheran") -- and we never have had any affiliation with the
Lutheran Church, which is going all guitars and multicultural anyway.
We were afraid that the perceived religious affiliation (or the
perception that we were a church choir) was costing us audience,
donors, and media attention. Many people assumed we were the choir of
"Bay Area Lutheran Church," which doesn't exist.

> What were the pros and cons considered?

Pro - better media coverage, more audiences, etc. Cons - possibly
annoying longtime donors, many of whom are Lutheran.

>Did you have any concrete evidence that the old name was problematic?

Not really, other than getting mail addressed to "Bay Area Lutheran
Church" and anecdotes about people surprised that a church choir
could handle the B Minor Mass and other difficult works.

>What was the reaction among the singers, audience, contributors, grantors,
>etc?

The Board spent over a year talking to singers and donors about this
before taking any action. All of them understood our reasoning,
whether or not they agreed that it really made a difference. The
biggest obstacle was that we didn't have a new name lined up at
first; it was difficult to sell the idea of a name change without
having the new name in hand.

By the time it really happened, the singers were sick of hearing
about it and the donors and audience seemed to take it in stride.

>Did you lose or gain any singers, audience, contributors, grantors etc. due
>to the name change?

Not as far as we know.

We made a big deal about the fact that our mission was staying the
same despite the name change. We have an excellent mission statement
which we crafted some 7 or 8 years ago, and we constantly mentioned
that nothing in the mission was changing. I think this helped mollify
any concerns the donors had.

When it comes right down to it, no one supports your organization
just for the name. While they may have some sentimental attachment to
the old name, what they really believe in is the music, the
conductor, the singers, the concerts.

>How did you publicize the name change? When did you stop references to the
>old name? How did you deal with recordings and other items still in use
>containing the old name?

The change was to occur June 30 (of 1999). We mentioned it in our
June concert program, then made it the lead article in our summer
newsletter, sent press releases to the media, then kept the old name
in a low-key way for a year. We mentioned the name change in letters
to donors. Really we dropped the old name pretty quickly. We don't
have any commercial recordings.

By the way, we kept our original name as our official corporation
name and simply filed a "DBA" fictitious-name form so we could put
the new name on our bank account (this was very easy, whereas
changing your corporate name is more of a headache). The only problem
we had was with the post office, which refused to send our bulk mail
unless the return address had our old name.

[Our situation has many parallels to yours, and we can certainly learn some
lessons from your experience. It's good to know that implementing the name
change was not traumatic.]
----------------
I hope you get some response from people in Buffalo, NY.

For eons, the large chorus associated with the Buffalo Philharmonic
Orchestra was Schola Cantorum which we all called Schola. They
changed to Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus but long time residents still
call it Schola. I wonder what they think now about the change.

[Nobody responded from Buffalo that I know of. Responses are still welcome.]
--------------
>Why was a name change brought up?
We were "Littleton Children's Chorale" and quickly outgrew the city of
Littleton. We needed to be available for a larger group of kids in other
parts of metro Denver.
>What were the pros and cons considered?
As director, even I stumbled over the name for a couple of years.
>Did you have any concrete evidence that the old name was problematic?
Yes, people often commented, "Oh, I thought you had to live in Littleton, or
go to Littleton Public Schools..." Basically, the geographic name was too
small.
Another problem was the usual ignorance in the general public about what a
chorale is. (Usually spelled corral or, at best, choral.) More than once,
someone commented that "children's corral" was a very cute name for a day
care center!
>What was the reaction among the singers, audience, contributors, grantors,
etc?
Concern for loss of reputation.
>Did you lose or gain any singers, audience, contributors, grantors etc. due
to the name change?
Didn't lose any!
>How did you publicize the name change?
Publicity is never easy or cheap, either. It's always tough.
>When did you stop references to the old name?
We still have Littleton Children's Chorale as our corporate name, but we are
"doing business as Young Voices of Colorado." So, all of our corporate
documents, grant proposals, it is "Littleton Children's Chorale DBA Young
Voices of Colorado." On our stationery, it says in small print, "formerly
Littleton Children's Chorale."
>How did you deal with recordings and other items still in use
containing the old name?
This is not a problem.
>What lessons did you learn that you wish you had known before you started?
If it needs to be done, do it! Otherwise, you are just wasting time.

Is it possible for you to "turn over a new leaf" with your organization.
Modernize for the new millenium? Move forward in a positive way?

[Our name contains a geographic reference too, but nobody in the group seems
to be concerned about that, just about "civic." I'm sure if we do change the
name, it will be done in a positive way. I'm actually one of the members
opposed to a change, but I certainly wouldn't leave the group or stand in the
way if it does happen.]
-----------------
I'll have to look up some old notes on how we went through the process and
how long it actually took us, but what we did do was this.....

We did an anonymous written poll of preferred names. Our name change
committee and executive board came up with a few. These and the group"s
original name were on this poll. There was an overwhelming response to the
name that the board actually had a preference for. That was lucky. But, we
did not push our membership to choose that name. They could choose from 3 or
4, the original name, or write in a suggestion of their own.

This is our first year under that new name.
We are publicizing as Group B (new name) formerly Group A (old name). This
seems to be working well so far.

Why did we change our name? For a variety of reasons. One term in the name
was an archaic reference that only a few knew what it meant. One other term
in our name was geographically binding us to a small region and unfortunately
seemed to leave us out of the market for certain grants and publicity in the
nearest metro area. Also, back to the geographic term, the membership of our
group is not confined to that area. They are from all over. The overwhelming
sense was that this old name did not as clearly tell who we are now as the
new one. Plus, back to the archaic term, we want all our audiences to have no
doubt as to what our group is about. Those who have not heard us will get a
good idea, but then when they come to concerts, we can reach out through
musical expression and reinforce, in a more personal way, who we are.

Overall, it's working well. The folks on our mailing list have not expressed
an opinion one way or another. So, I don't suspect any uprisings over the
name change from that group.
-----------------------
You wish to post a compilation from all of us, using our names as
endorsements for our views. Yet your group wishes to remain anonymous. Is
there a problem here? If the group will not give its name, then perhaps
some self-study is in order before considering a name change. Does the
group have a mission statement? Does the group have stability in the
conductor's position? Is there a board, properly organized, with officers?
Is the group board-governed, or is it an "association" model, with every
member voting on everything? Is the board a real board, or a figurehead for
a handful of well-insulated decision makers? Is there an Executive Director
-- paid? Are the books audited annually? Is there a public accounting of
decision-making? Who makes repertoire and rehearsal-schedule decisions?
Are audiences holding up well? Is the cash-flow reasonably steady? What is
the demographic make-up of the group? Is there conflict between the
old-timers and the "newer" members? Between the "pro's" and the "am's"?
If you have well-considered answers to these sorts of questions, then you
can think through the vexing process of name change. Name changes are
dangerous for well-established groups with good artistic/financial track
records. I would not go down that road without having a VERY clear view of
your present situation. The wird "civic" is a part of many very fine
groups, both pro and am around the country. The name "civic" may not, of
itself, be the underlying issue. Think this through with care, and if there
is a deeper, more nagging problem, perhaps a proper consultation is in
order.

[We do have a mission statement, an active hands-on board, a stable
conductorship, a sound financial position, and a reasonably harmonious
membership, but no paid staff. The missing ingredient is the audience, which
varies from 100 to 1000 per concert. The question is whether a name change
would help there, or whether we just need to attend to the other factors you
pointed out.

By the way, the chorus president, to whom I am married, asked me not to
identify the chorus so that we don't "leak" the name change question to the
outside world before we make a decision. ]

Pardon me for hinting at dark dealings in your choir. I am glad to hear
that things are in good stable shape. As you know, that's not always the
case in choirs these days. Our own Community Chorus has emerged from a
period of great stress, and is doing well again, with good artistic
leadership and excellent fiscal management.
I recall when our very distinguished brother boychoir, The Columbus
Boychoir moved to Princeton and changed its name to The American Boychoir.
It was a move they really had to make, but it's been a long climb to their
present position of very high artistic excllence. And their letterhead
still includes the line, "founded as the Columbus Boychoir" -- and that must
have been 20 or more years ago.
Our own organization is a collaborative merger of the Boychoir, Girls
Chorus, Symphony, Community Chorus, and Comm. Music School. The merger has
been a very happy one, thanks to VERY detailed planning. None of us has
changed our name,
though we have a new corporate identity.
There was a move a few years ago (before the merger), when the Boychoir
and Girls Chorus were under their old board, to change the name of the
choirs, but after a lot of thought, we decided that we each had identities
based on our current names, and that a change would be confusing, and might
suggest that we felt our old names (and therefore our old programs and
identities) were somehow wanting. We shied away.
A name change is a really serious move. It sounds like your choir is in
a position to think it through with the requisite care. I would be
interested to know what comes of your deliberations.
You note that audience size is an issue. Isn't it true! Our own
Community Chorus, led by the same conductor as the Girls Chorus, tried
(under its previous conductor) to attract audience by going more "pops" in
its programming. But no use. It just wasn't their style, and it sounded
amateur-ish. They've returned pretty much to their traditions these days,
with some forays into light music -- a nice mix. Their audience has
improved through the merger, because we emphasize as lot of collaborations
among our groups. The chorus will do Poulenc Gloria with the Symphony this
spring, and the Chorus and the Girls will do Andrew Carter's Benedicite. A
Broadway review later in the spring. BTW, the Chorus also includes a special
"pops ensemble" of about 15-20 singers who do the "show choir" stuff -- and
well. Some of the singers are not all that young these days, but they do
msuic of the 40's/50's/60's with verve and affection, and a lot of pizazz.
It accomodates that repertoire without subverting the overall mission of the
choir, and does it more justice than would performance by the full choir.
Do you have an orchestra with which you could collaborate? If you can
join forces from time to time, you bring two audiences together, and
introduce some new listeners to your offerings.
SORRY to have gone on so long. I don't respond to too many Choralist
postings, but I guess yours got me going. Best wishes, and happy holidays!
Do you have a Christmas program? Our Comm. Chorus just finished its annual
cycle of several "Make we Merry" performances -- which they call either
"Make we money" or "Make me weary." The Boychoir does Ceremony of Carols
this season. Girls and men just finished Rutter Gloria. So we keep on
a-singin' !

[I really do appreciate all the thoughts you're sharing with me, and I
certainly do know about the struggles that can beset a choir - we went
through that stage about 8 years ago, and have grown a great deal both
artistically and organizationally since then. Perhaps our geography, being
sandwiched between New York City and Philadelphia, makes people think they
have to go to "the city" to hear "good music." There's an element of truth in
that, as our local community orchestra is not working at a level that matches
ours. We do collaborate with local children's choirs now and then, and we do
perform "Christmas lite" (no, we don't call it that) at several local
churches. ]
--------------------
We changed the Name of the Danbury Community Chorus to Danbury Concert
Chorus. It leaves a more respectable flavor. We had no adverse repercussions.
--------------------
I would simply draw a parallel with the business world. A name has value,
real, tangible, financial value. A name carries a reputation, and it can
take years to build that reputation. When someone buys a business, the
monetary value of the name is always taken into consideration.

When a bank, for example, decides to change its name (a practice that has
swept through the banking industry), as far as I am concerned that band
ceases to exist. It has lost its reputation, and it is starting from
scratch. Same thing with a health plan, same thing with a telephone
company. Businesses and their consultants don't seem to realize this, but
then businesses don't seem to know much at all about customer psychology!

If the nature of the group changes, then it would be a mistake to keep the
name. Otherwise I would be very careful. One approach might be to
simplify, dropping one word perhaps, but leaving the core of the name
identifiable. New York Pro Musica Antigua did this when they discovered a
conflict with a European ensemble, changing to New York Pro Musica. In pop
music, the "Chicago Transit Authority" of the early 1960s became "Chicago,"
and it didn't throw anybody off.

"Civic," by the way, certainly does not imply inferiority. How do you feel
about the "Civic Light Opera" in Chicago? "Community" might connote a
lower level of accomplishment, but certainly not "civic."

Best of luck in deciding!
-----------------------------
No question about it, "civic" says "singing society" (translate "amateur
choir") to the public. HOWEVER, unless your chorus places art as its first
priority (and the social aspect below that) then you are indeed a singing
society. While both types of choirs are valid they serve different purposes.

A name change will not likely change the number of butts in the seats for
your concerts. However, if it is not a reflection of what you are striving
to be then I would change it. A name change brings up a whole different set
of challenges. Getting it right is crucial because you have one stab at it.

I recommend you go to the Chorus America conference. You can speak to many
who have faced this Dilemma.

[While we do place art as our first priority, we also respond to our members'
social needs and recognize the limits of what singers with non-musicaljobs,
families, etc. can do. We attended the Chorus America conference for the past
2 years, but may not be able to attend the next one due to distance. However,
getting in touch with people there is a good idea.]
------------------
And the nice people who sent me all these points to ponder include:
Jena Dickey, founder/director Young Voices of Colorado
Brooks Grantier, The Battle Creek Boychoir, Battle Creek, MI
John Howell, Virginia Tech Department of Music
Chuck Matz, Danbury Concert Chorus
Donald McCullough, Master Chorale of Washington
Allen H Simon, Soli Deo Gloria

Happy New Year to all!
Susan Metz
suemetz(a)aol.com